Is IBM’s Watson The Future Of Medical Decision Making?

Ever since soundly winning Jeopardy! in 2011, IBM’s Watson has been quite busy.


Besides soundly beating out members of Congress in an untelevised Jeopardy! match, Watson also became possibly the smartest second-year medical student of all time. But like any bright medical student, Watson didn’t just stop there.


IBM recently announced the development of two paradigm-shifting projects, WatsonPath, a diagnosis and education program, and Watson EMR Assistant, a tool for analyzing information stored in medical records. Building upon Watson’s question-answering abilities, WatsonPath draws from clinical guidelines, evidence-based studies, and reference materials to either support or refute a set of hypotheses. WatsonPath is essentially the algorithm machine every medical student wishes they had in their head during board exams. And with a “learning regimen” that includes breaking down board-style questions, why wouldn’t WatsonPath score the highest USMLE score ever?


How can WatsonPath be used as an educational tool? The video above explains how the project not only offers answer suggestions, but also displays a schematic flow diagram showing the reasoning behind answers and confidence levels. WatsonPath breaks down clinical scenarios the same way any medical student would, looking at signs and symptoms, interpreting lab values, and searching for key associations. The project is currently being assimilated into the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) curriculum at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.


Beyond the classroom walls, the possibilities of Watson for actual clinical settings are also already being explored. Through a partnership between IBM and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Watson is being used as “MD Anderson’s Oncology Expert Advisor.” This was after Watson was trained to “understand” over 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, more than two million pages of medical journals, and 1.5 million patient records. With a depth of medical information that no single human could ever match, Watson has already been touted as being “better at diagnosing cancer than human doctors.”


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Ieroo Park

Ieroo is an editor for The Almost Doctor's Channel. He graduated from Boston College with a degree in English, and is looking forward to becoming an "Almost Doc". In his spare time, he enjoys playing basketball, tennis, and taking selfies with Dr. Ruth.